Chapter 7

June 8th, U.C. 0053, 10:16 PM

Even though Aina had warned her it would happen, Élisabeth was completely unprepared for the speed at which her organization had fallen apart. The government had offered to repeal most of the laws oppressing magical individuals, desperate to enlist more of them into the fight against the god warrior. Magic users would still need to register with the government, and the government had proposed a tiered licensing system for powerful spells. A year ago, she would have balked at any registration requirement, but she had since seen how dangerous magic could be, and privately, she thought the proposals were reasonable. During negotiations, however, she had expressed her disappointment that those who perpetrated the situation would go unpunished.

“You killed nana keisatsu officers,” the government negotiator had pointed out. “Was that not enough punishment for you?”

“Their punishment was too severe,” Élisabeth had admitted. “They should have stood trial for their crimes. Demo, there are too many other keisatsu officers who still need to face punishment, not to mention the goshujin who created this mess in the first place.”

Unbeknownst to both Élisabeth and the negotiator, their conversation was being recorded. Shortly afterwards, one of the rougher members of Élisabeth’s organization gave an interview in which she claimed their group was an offshoot of the yakuza with a vendetta against the police. Every news agency in the city had paired that interview with the clip of Élisabeth telling the negotiator that there were still officers left to punish. Overnight, her movement lost what public support it had, and most of her followers defected to the SDF. Only those with criminal histories which prevented them from joining the military remained, and this had only reinforced the image of Élisabeth’s group as a haven for thugs.

Dispirited by this turn of events, Élisabeth had considered abandoning her cause and joining the campaign against the god warrior. Only days in, there had been hundreds of thousands of casualties. Magical soldiers were primarily playing a supporting role, erecting barriers not only to keep troops safe from the god warrior, but also from each other. Every major nation on Earth was present on the battlefield, and none of them wanted to be caught in a vulnerable position when the god warrior fell. There was a lot of firepower on the battlefield, but because none of the countries trusted each other, not all of it was pointed at the god warrior. The o1st Magical Company was the only force that could separate the armies of the various nations, and doing so required them to work very close to the frontline. On the first day of fighting, there was only one casualty from the 01st. Their defensive magic and well-coordinated teamwork helped protect them, but by the end of the second day, the constant battle management was taking its toll. More than a dozen magical girls had come back in body bags since then, including some whom Élisabeth had once counted as comrades.

It felt wrong—and cowardly—to remain in the safety of the city. The fight for the survival of humankind was inarguably more important than her fight for justice, but Élisabeth had realized long ago that she could only fight one battle at a time, and she still wasn’t ready to abandon hers. After all, there was no guarantee that the government would continue to allow magical individuals their freedom after the current crisis had passed. She would endure the shame of cowardice to keep the dream of justice alive.

Thus, hoping that her followers in prison would still be loyal to her, Élisabeth was taking advantage of the distraction created by the god warrior to break into the prison holding magical criminals. It was the same facility she had once mass-teleported all the detainees out of, but its security systems had been hardened since then. She had twice tried to break her followers out, only to be slowed long enough for Koharu to arrive and drive her off. Now, however, Koharu was hundreds of miles away, and even if she could pull herself away from the battlefield, it was unheard of for a single magical girl to teleport that distance. There were rumors that Ryoko had once teleported all the way to Neo Leningrad, but Élisabeth had found no evidence of these claims.

Having evaded or subdued the rest of the security measures, Élisabeth strolled into the antechamber leading to the holding cells. Inside, she found a dozen magical girls wearing military uniforms and large apple masks which covered their entire heads.

Nani’s with the kamen?” Élisabeth asked them. She could tell that their magic was weak. She didn’t have anything to fear from them.

Ringo!” they shouted in unison, each raising a hand into the air. “Mogire!” they continued, pointing their index fingers directly at Élisabeth. “Beam!” A beam of light shot from their fingertips, slamming into Élisabeth and sending her stumbling backwards. They were stronger than she suspected, but their attack was nothing but an annoyance.

“That’s a kawaii trick,” Élisabeth complimented them, only to be struck once again as they repeated the incantation. This time the beam stung a little. It was getting stronger. “If you don’t stop, I’ll have to—” She was interrupted as they cast the spell once more, but this time she erected a stronger barrier to block it. Raising her own hand, she summoned a crackling, glowing orb.

As if admitting defeat, the apple-masked girls lowered their arms. Élisabeth lowered hers in return, but was caught by surprise when they chanted, “Your life changes everything!”

Koharu’s voice filled the chamber, resonating off the walls.

Kimi ga omou sono mama no koto
Utau dareka mitsukete mo
Sugu ni koi ni ochite wa dame sa

If you’re thinking clearly
And find someone singing
You can’t just fall in love with them)

A circle behind the magical girls began glowing, and it dawned on Élisabeth that Koharu wouldn’t need to teleport here if she were summoned. The girls standing guard in this chamber weren’t powerful enough to summon Koharu, but by singing, they were channeling their magic into a shared spell. It still wasn’t enough to transport Koharu, but it was enough to contact her, and she was adding her own magic to the spell by singing with them, hundreds of miles away. Now that Koharu had established contact, Élisabeth knew the only way to prevent her from appearing was to  destroy the summoning circle. Before she could make a move, she was hit by two more apple picking beams, one after the other. By the time she recovered, Koharu, still singing, had begun to materialize. It was too late to stop the summoning.

Saa ikou ze,” Koharu recited, propelling herself towards Élisabeth with a pair of small rockets attached to her back. The charge caught Élisabeth entirely by surprise, as Koharu usually preferred to fight from a distance. Recently, Aina had been encouraging her to mix in physical attacks, and Koharu had found doing so often helped against magical opponents, who generally knew little of non-magical self-defense.

Before Élisabeth could form a barrier around herself, Koharu slammed her shoulder into Élisabeth’s chest. The force would have knocked Élisabeth down, but Koharu adjusted her trajectory to lift them both off the ground. Élisabeth’s barrier formed around the both of them, just in time to protect her as she crashed into the wall behind her. They broke through the wall, and Koharu increased the thrust from her rockets to prevent them from slowing down too much. Koharu continued to sing as they smashed through the walls in their path.

Gibu, gibu, gibu!” Élisabeth shouted as loud as she could, but Koharu ignored her and continued singing. Shortly thereafter, they broke through the facility’s outermost wall, and Koharu’s thrusters shut off. A second later, they hit the ground and tumbled as the roughly spherical barrier rolled across the pavement.

That hadn’t been part of the plan. The shared spell was supposed to create an area without gravity outside of the prison. Either the other girls had failed to maintain the spell properly, or Élisabeth’s barrier had sealed Koharu’s magical energy in. Either way, Koharu kept singing as she cast a another spell. As they rolled to a stop, Élisabeth, who was fighting back nausea, noticed a glow in Koharu’s hand begin to take the shape of a pistol. Summoning it through the barrier was a slow process, but it would be finished soon.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Élisabeth groaned. “I surrender.” She wasn’t going to be able to rescue her followers now, and she didn’t want to hurt Koharu. Fighting was meaningless. Koharu’s face remained grave, and Élisabeth could detect determination in her eyes.

It was at this moment that Élisabeth realized that her fight for justice was over. Koharu had gotten what she had needed from Élisabeth, and now Élisabeth was standing in the way of more important matters. Koharu was going to kill her, not because she wanted to, but because she had to. She couldn’t return to the battlefield while there was still a chance Élisabeth might try another jailbreak. If Koharu killed her here, her cause would lose its powerful and charismatic leader. If she killed Koharu, who was helping to fight the god warrior, she would be the enemy of the entire human race. There would be no justice, and one good person following their convictions would kill another.

She knew that there was no god or devil responsible for this sad state of affairs, only cause and effect. It had been painful, but she’d come to terms with the fact that there were no supernatural forces guiding her destiny. Even so, until this moment, she had always believed that justice would ultimately prevail, that it was the natural state of the world. She realized now that her faith in justice was as baseless as her belief in God had been.

Iie!” Élisabeth cried out. She tried to grab the gun out of Koharu’s hand, and the two of them began to wrestle inside the barrier. “Seigi wa saigo,” she sobbed. “Seigi wa… Seigi wa…” As the depression sunk in, Élisabeth weakened.

Kitto paradaisu da yo,” Koharu sang quietly as she pointed the gun at Élisabeth’s forehead. As she did, Élisabeth’s survival instincts kicked in. The lyric had reminded her that there was no paradise waiting for her after death. She only had this one life, and she didn’t want to lose it. Her fight for justice wasn’t all she had to live for. She didn’t want to leave Ryoko’s little sister without a family once again.

She pushed herself away from the gun as Koharu pulled the trigger. The blast hit the barrier behind Élisabeth and dissipated, but some of the energy bounced back and hit Élisabeth in the back. It singed the feathers on her wings, but Élisabeth barely noticed. She was in fight-or-flight mode, and Koharu was pinning her down. She tried to teleport out, but was trapped by whatever spell Koharu and the apple masks had cast over the area. Koharu had thrown herself against the side of the barrier to dodge the deflected energy, but now she was recovering her posture and about to fire again. Without thinking, Élisabeth summoned her sword and ran it through Koharu’s abdomen.

Élisabeth was shocked by how smoothly the blade sank into Koharu’s body. As she continued to push, it felt like she was tearing Koharu’s life away. She didn’t remember feeling anything like this when she had killed the police officers. This was visceral. Koharu tried to heal herself, but as long as the sword remained in her, Koharu couldn’t close the wound. She tried to push against Élisabeth, but Élisabeth kept the guard pressed tight against Koharu’s belly.

Gomen,” Élisabeth apologized. “I didn’t want this. You forced my hand.” But even as she said it, she didn’t feel sorry. She felt exhilarated. Adrenaline was still pumping through her from the battle, and she was relieved that she had been the one to survive. The combined feelings gave her a high she had never experienced before.

Koharu opened her mouth to reply, but only gurgles came out. She tried again, but Élisabeth couldn’t make out what she was saying, so she leaned closer.

Ureshii himei ga kyou mo kikoeru,” Koharu whispered.

Élisabeth’s world went dark, and she immediately realized that Koharu had managed to activate another spell. Worried that she could no longer see anything, she pulled back from Koharu and looked down at her hands. She could see them, but only the parts that were covered in Koharu’s blood. Looking around, it was as if she could see blood and dead objects, like clothing and her sword, but nothing else. Koharu’s floating uniform did not move, but it continued to bleed. Normally, Élisabeth would find that reassuring, but knowing that she couldn’t trust her own eyes, her first instinct was to get to safety. The spell was still preventing her from teleporting, so she pulled her sword from Koharu’s body and dispelled her barrier. She swung her sword around her to make sure that there were no unseen enemies within striking distance. As she spun, she caught a glimpse of a floating headband and apron. Before she could turn back towards it, she was pushed to the ground and her sword was yanked from her hand.

“Heal her,” Aina ordered Élisabeth.

“A-Aina-san,” Élisabeth stammered. “I didn’t want—”

“Heal her,” Aina repeated the demand. “Ima.”

Demo I can’t see,” Élisabeth protested. “She cast a spell on me.”

“Hold still,” Aina said. She placed her hands over Élisabeth’s eyes and Élisabeth felt an uncomfortable pressure. When Aina removed her hands, she could see again. Koharu was lying on the pavement, with two of the apple-masked magical girls kneeling over her. They were doing their best to heal her, but they were having trouble with the magical energy Élisabeth’s sword had left behind. Élisabeth knelt next to them to help.

“Hold still, shousa,” one of the magical girls advised Koharu a minute later as her eyes flicked open. “We’re still working.”

“You’re too slow,” Koharu complained, placing her own hand over her slowly-closing wound. “I’ll take care of the healing. You concentrate on the blood synthesis.”

Aina yanked Élisabeth up hard and pulled her away from the scene. The pressure she felt from Aina’s energy was agonizing. She couldn’t cast the simplest of spells, let alone teleport away. She was more scared than she had been when she realized Koharu planned to kill her, because now she felt completely helpless to do anything about it.

“Please,” she pleaded as Aina dragged her towards some nearby buildings. “Please, I don’t want to die.” Her voice was equal parts panic and despair. “Please, Aina-san. You owe me. I’ll—”

“Stop talking,” Aina warned her. When she was confident that they were out of earshot of the other magical girls, Aina pushed Élisabeth against the wall of the closest building. “You’re right, I do owe you,” Aina said quietly. “I’m going to let you escape, but there are conditions. First, this counts as a repayment of a favor. I don’t owe you after this.” Élisabeth nodded quickly, not wanting Aina to change her mind. “Second, you’re done. Go hide out somewhere. Disguise yourself. If you don’t show yourself in this machi again, we’ll leave you alone, but if you so much as utter the word ‘seigi’, we’ll kill you.”

It took longer for Élisabeth to agree to this condition, but Aina didn’t rush her. After a significant pause, Élisabeth nodded her head slowly, and Aina let her go. She teleported away as quickly as she could.